Ray Thompson came home from Vietnam in 1969 badly wounded, having lost four ribs, a kidney and his spleen, among other injuries the young Army radio operator sustained while serving his country in Southeast Asia.
But he didn't give up on the radio, and that passion eventually led him to the love of his life and wife, Patty.
"We met on the CB radio and talked on it for seven months before we ever met in person," she said Sunday morning, minutes before a touching ceremony to honor the addition of her late husband's name to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington.
Ray Thompson took care of fellow servicemen and women at the veterans medical center in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Mrs. Thompson desperately wanted to see her late husband's name on the wall.
The sacrifices of more than 58,000 men and women are honored there. Names are added each year, and the only stipulation is that the veteran died as a result of wounds suffered during the Vietnam conflict.
The process, however, is painstaking. Ray Thompson passed away in 2010, but it has taken this long for the Defense Department to approve his addition.
It wouldn't have been in Ray's nature, Mrs. Thompson said, to grapple with the federal government just to see his name etched into the black granite of the memorial wall.
But it's most certainly in hers.
"Ray wasn't a scrapper, but I am. I'll take on the Chinese army," Mrs. Thompson said as veterans and friends and families of the honorees gathered behind her on the Mall. "It was one of the last promises I made to him. It's like a huge task has come to completion for me. He said, 'You'll never get my name on that wall.' But I kept my promise to him."
Spc. Raymond Clark Thompson was one of the four names added to the wall last week.
The others, ABE3 Clark David Franklin of New Mexico, Pfc. Lester James Veazey of Oklahoma, and Sgt. Dennis R. Siverling of Wisconsin, also were honored during the service, an event that, by design, coincided with Mother's Day.
"Our mothers' prayers brought us home," Harry G. Robinson, a Vietnam veteran and renowned architect at Howard University, said at the ceremony.
Rep. Steven A. Horsford, Nevada Democrat and the keynote speaker, told the mothers and fathers of Vietnam veterans — and veterans of all other conflicts, before and since — that their children represent "the pinnacle of American heroism."
"Your child embodies the values that make this country great," he told members of the crowd, many of whom choked back tears.
Mrs. Thompson wants her husband's children to remember that it was their father, an Indiana native who grew up with little money, who also embodied those values.
"He was a brave man. I always say he was the closest thing to a hero that I've ever known," she said, just after she collected additional "rubbings" — stenciled copies of Ray's name as it appears on the wall — to give to her late husband's two surviving children.
In all, the couple raised five children, including a son they had together along with two children from her husband's earlier marriage and two from hers.
Given the severity of his injuries, many didn't expect Ray Thompson to survive, much less raise five children.
After a horrific rocket attack as he took a late-night shower, a surgeon filled out a death certificate for the 21-year-old, assuming he wouldn't make it.
But Spc. Thompson pulled through, despite devastating injuries that caused him to lose 10 feet of intestines and about one-third of his stomach.
As amazing as his recovery was, the next few chapters in the wounded veteran's life were equally impressive. After graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in fine arts, he returned to college and took medical classes.
He then cared for fellow veterans at a hospital in Riviera Beach. Later, he went to work at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.
Having seen the horrors of war, Mrs. Thompson said, her husband had a longing in his heart to help in whatever way he could.
"That's what he wanted to do. His fellow veterans, he called them all his brothers," she said. "He really had an incredible spirit.
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